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Modified New God Argument

April 25, 2011

Over my post about an imperfect God at Wheat and Tares, I revisited the New God Argument (summarized here), which essentially states that if we will not go extinct before becoming “posthumans,” then given assumptions about contemporary science and technological trends, it is actually logical that posthumans already exist, are more benevolent than we are, and created us.


But on Twitter, I got to thinking about a few things. The argument emphasizes on “posthumans” (earlier drafts called for “advanced civilizations”) who do this creating. But what if posthumans aren’t required at all? After all, we humans now can be said to simulate millions of “lives” — consider every video game EVER programmed.

Civilization 5

Yeah…about that benevolence argument…

I believe that Lincoln Cannon, one of the proponents of the New God Argument, arbitrarily sets limits on the kinds of simulations that would count as created universes for the argument. This is carried from Nick Bostrom’s Simulation argument — while Bostrom accepts the idea of substrate-independent minds (roughly, that mental phenomena can take place on a number of physical substrates), he nevertheless asserts that conscious minds require a particular power of hardware and software that we have not created. Bostrom and Cannon want to say that we would need a certain level of processing power that would only exist with “posthumans” — when I don’t see any reason why we ought not consider the “universes” created in a game of Civilization 5 or Sim City 4 as being simulated universes — with rudimentary “conscious” beings — other than a kind of speciesism.

The scriptures say, in Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

What does that mean? Couldn’t it mean that God is at a level of technical detail magnitudes above us? Traditional Christians assume in some way that that is what it means (God is, in essence, a different “species” from humans. There is an ontological gap between man and God that cannot be gapped. Man will never be an infinite being, while God will never be a finite being), but in some way, Mormon Christianity tries to collapse some of the distinction. As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become. (Although I don’t know that we teach that.)

My thought was this: couldn’t this mean that God’s level of thinking, consciousness, etc., is so far beyond our own? Perhaps at some level, God doesn’t recognize *us* as being or having a certain level of awareness?

I believe that Mr. Cannon wants to set limits on the technological capacities that can “simulate universes” because he wants to aim only at those universes that have the same level of detail as our own. But the problem is…he doesn’t know whether our *own* universe and ourselves are quite detailed or poor in detail. We look to our civilizations in Civ 5 and recognize that theirs is a universe poor in detail — we want to say there is no consciousness there…but who is to say that God doesn’t look to our own universe and say that ours is a universe poor in detail?

Who is even to say that we can compare processing power? Bostrom wants to calculate the amount of processing power our memories take up, but who’s to say that from the perspective of simulators, our memories are no tough feat at all? Why would we assume comparable physics?

Can our AI citizens in the Sims accurately remark about their own universe’s level of detail? Or…for our own universe and situation:

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?  What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory

Romans 9:20-23

If we broaden the scope of what counts as a simulated or created universe, then this has grave implications for the New God Argument.

Namely, much of the NGA argues based on logic and probabilities. “EITHER we probably will go extinct before becoming posthumans OR posthumans probably do not create many worlds like those in their past OR posthumans probably created our world”.

On its own, statements like these don’t decide which of these possibilities is the case (while the NGA does take certain “assumptions” about which option is true). The trick to opposing the NGA is to show that it has, at some point, created a false dilemma (er, trilemma).

I don’t really think the trilemmas are false, but maybe the logic chain could be updated. Presently, we can state that even if we will go extinct before becoming posthumans, we still have created worlds like those in our past (e.g., we create video games that mimic our own world NOW — yet, it’s possible that we could kill ourselves before becoming “posthuman”). Even if posthumans probably do not create many worlds like those in their past, maybe they did when they were humans? As a result the final “OR” may not be limited to posthumans creating our world. In fact, it is more probable that we are a low-tech, low degree-of-detail “video game” simulation than a high-detail world.

I feel like I could go through all the parts of the summarized NGA like this. The Faith position as an assumption need not be taken, but even if so, it doesn’t substantially change the mathematics. Even if we survive to be posthumans, we still have to deal with a number of non-posthuman universe simulations (every video game that has ever been created prior to our theorized ascent to posthumanity).

The Angel Argument still doesn’t change the math. If there are posthumans, great. If not, we still have to potentially deal with non-posthuman simulated universes.

Regardless of whether posthumans are more benevolent than us (or whether they destroy themselves before reaching a posthuman level), we still have to potentially deal with non-posthuman simulated universes.

The Creation argument ties it together. Maybe other non-posthuman societies don’t simulate universes. Maybe they don’t create video games. But I’d assume that posthumans AND nonposthumans strive to create worlds like those in their past.

Non-posthuman worlds should be more numerous than posthuman worlds under this chain. After all, the existence of posthuman worlds requires more assumptions (e.g., that the non-posthumans survive to become posthumans and that they create as posthumans).

So, I would conclude that if it is likely that posthumans probably created our world, then it should be even likelier that non-posthumans created our world. However much we like to privilege our universe as being detailed and pretty awesome, it is more likely that our universe is one of far more “video games” and low detail simulations and creations.

…this allows for interesting conclusions. After all, it may be that our “God” is benevolent, but not benevolent at a posthuman level. It may be that our God is benevolent and creative, but limited by technology (and these technological limitations create “natural evils” that we suffer.) In a way, this could offer new possibilities for theodicy. It could be that our debates regarding free will vs. determinism are interesting plays on our own technological limitations vs. those of our universe. Maybe oddities in physics are software bugs?

  1. Seth R. permalink

    Sam Harris was just writing something similar to this:

    At any rate, it’s certainly true that one possible solution to the theodicy is to “limit” God. If you make him incapable of getting rid of evil, it does at least soften whether or not he himself is evil. I’ve had both atheists and Christians object strenuously to this suggestion however. Both camps are rather committed to what I call the “supernatural view” of God.

    But I would simply point out that even Catholics and Baptists place limits on God. They have no problems with God being logically coherent for instance. They don’t generally go around claiming that God is able to create square triangles, or create a rock so big he can’t lift it, or be an evil being. So obviously there are limitations that even traditional Christianity is OK with.

    So what is the problem with positing that God is subject to the same universal laws everyone else is – just at a higher or even ultimate level? The idea that if you perfectly understood the natural laws of the universe, you would understand God.

    I’ve gotten into the middle of arguments between atheists and other Christians before, and the atheists are always a bit confused when I arrive claiming that God is not a supernatural being. It’s like they haven’t really thought about how to deal with such a position.

    But interesting to see some of them doing this now.

  2. Seth,

    I’ve had both atheists and Christians object strenuously to this suggestion however. Both camps are rather committed to what I call the “supernatural view” of God.

    I can see why both parties would do that…it seems like when you start limiting God, or even making him a natural being, that it cheapens the very idea of a “God”. Why call him God? Even in the New God Argument/simulation argument, the language is about “posthumans” and need not be called deities (although the NGA takes the position that these posthumans could fit the bill and Sam Harris, as you noted, also points out how religions could work in a posthuman universe.)

    I used to take this position — that is, that we only reserve the term “god” for beings with certain characteristics. I don’t really know what changed…

    I too still haven’t completely thought about how to deal with such a position.

    • Seth R. permalink

      Well, I only think it “cheapens” God because of how our cultural bias (inherited from 2000 years of Christianity) has taught us to think that way.

  3. Wayne W. permalink

    I think I saw something about this in some book…..Hitchhikers Guide the Galaxy.

  4. Hi Andrew. The logic and math of the Simulation Argument, from which the Creation Argument is generalized, depend on observers that we believe to have experience approximately like ours. Bostrom explores how loose the approximation could be in the section of his paper entitled “A Bland Indifference Principle”. Without the approximation, we can’t say much about how our probable future should inform expectations about what we’ll discover in our past.

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